Pawsitivity Service Dogs
St. Paul, Minnesota
Do you train service dogs for adults, or for other disabilities besides autism?
While our primary mission is training assistance dogs for children with autism, once in a while we will work with a dog which is not appropriate for that work (perhaps the dog is too big or too small, or some other reason) and then we will train the dog for an adult with another kind of disability.
What kinds of Service Dogs do you train?
While our main focus is Autism Service Dogs, sometimes autism is also associated with other disabilities (comorbidity), which can include psychiatric disabilities (such as major depression, severe anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia, bipolar disorder, social phobias, PTSD, and OCD), and Seizures.
What other benefits does an Autism Service Dog help with?
- Having autism is tough - on the individual and on his or her family. Usually children with autism struggle with routine social interactions, whether it is speaking to strangers, interacting with others, or simply having a reason to leave the house. A service dog can help with feelings of isolation that sometimes occur as a result of the lack of social interaction. One way service dogs help with feelings of isolation is simply by virtue of their presence! People are usually incredibly curious about service dogs, and ask a lot of questions about them, which results in a dramatic increase in the amount of social interaction for the individual with the disability. These interactions dramatically reduce feelings of isolation. In cases of Autism Service Dogs, sometimes the whole family benefits from this increase in social interaction with the general public. Not only are people curious about the service dog, but the dog's calming influence on the child with autism increases the number and variety of family outings.
- Moreover, simply meeting the service dog’s needs by walking and socializing the dog gets the handler out of the house and moving around the community. Often, having a service dog makes people feel more comfortable about approaching someone to talk who might have otherwise simply been perceived as “different” or “strange”. These casual interactions might even lead to friendships!
- Even children who have not been diagnosed with Major Depression Disorder can struggle with symptoms of depression because of the added difficulties that are the result of living with autism.Getting out and about with a service dog reduces isolation, increases exercise, and can really help with depression and anxiety.
- You can refer to our page on how service dogs assist individuals with depression for more information, but there are numerous benefits associated with having a service dog. Not only can a service dog help the child meet other people, but the presence of the dog in one's life means companionship 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some children with autism, for instance, may not have brothers and sisters to play with, so a service dog can fill the role of a friend who needs them; not just for food and walks, but for companionship, and someone with whom the child can share experiences.
- It's easy to inadvertently turn inward and focus on one's own problems, spending too much time thinking about negative things. Having a service dog can change this by shifting the focus of the child's attention outward. Service dogs provide external stimulation as well as constant affection that can serve to redirect the handler’s thoughts. This new outward focus can keep the child living in the moment and thus, happier in their day-to-day life.
As reported in a 2008 study, "Trained service dogs assist and also add pride, self-reliance, and personal satisfaction to an individual's daily life." Observations on Assistance Dog Training and Use, Coppinger R, Coppinger L, Skillings E., Hampshire College, Amherst, MA.
How helpful is a Service Dog?
Here are some quotes from scientific studies published in peer-reviewed journals:
Allen and Blascovich, Journal of the AMA (1996) conducted the only published study in which individuals with severe and chronic ambulatory disabilities (who required the use of wheelchairs) were randomly assigned to either an experimental or control group in a paired-sample, controlled clinical trial design. The study assessed the impact of service dogs for these participants. The results showed improvements in seven dependent measures; namely::
- Substantial increases in self-esteem, the extent to which the individuals felt in control of their lives, and measures general psychological well-being.
- Dramatic improvements in social interactions and community integration.
Improvements in school attendance rates and/or part-time employment.
Perhaps most surprising and dramatically, all participants in this study showed dramatic decreases in the number of hours of (paid or unpaid) assistance they required.
In a study by Valentine, D.P., Kiddoo, M., & LaFleur, B, in Social Work in Health Care (1993) on the implications of service dog ownership for adults who have mobility, seeing or hearing impairments, participants reported feeling:
- More independent (90%)
- Having higher self-esteem (80%)
- Being more content (80%)
- Being more assertive (80%)
- Another study looking at the impact of service dogs on various self-reported quality of life measures for adults with a wide variety of physical disabilities found significant increases in almost every category. One of the most relevant findings from the questionnaire had to do with the extent to which participants felt that the service dog improved with social life in addition to performing the specific assistance tasks for which they were trained. The authors reported that “92% of subjects reported that people frequently stopped to talk with them when they went out with their dog, and 75% reported that they had made new friends since they had their dog.” Lane, D., McNicholas, J., & Collis, G., 1998, Applied Animal Behaviour Science 59(1-3), 49-60.
- "Consistent with the great majority of other literature on assistance dogs, assessments across a diverse range of areas confirmed the positive impact of the the service dogs on the lives of these individuals."
- "Their (the handlers') positive expectations were commensurate with their actual experience once the dog had been placed with them and they had several months of experience working with the dog."
- "Furthermore, participants rated their satisfaction with their dogs as very high, on average".
- According to this study, even though the assistance dogs were trained to help with difficulties associated with the physical impairment of the handlers, many life areas showed improvement after placement of a service dog, including "number of friends, self-esteem, physical fitness, leisure activities, happiness, assertiveness, job performance, and acceptance of disability." Also, "their social approachability had improved dramatically after the placement of a service dog".
- “Despite the fact that self-esteem was relatively high among participants before obtaining the service, a standardized quantitative measure of self-esteem indicated significant improvement from before to after placement of the dog.”
- "Importantly, participants also reported benefits to their family and caregivers. Individuals with disabilities often need both paid and unpaid assistance from caregivers. Unpaid assistance often comes from family members, pacing some degree of burden on the family care-givers. Reduction in the time needed for care-giving can have a positive impact on the overall functioning of the family and positively affect both the individual with a disability as well as other family members."
- Although these studies were all conducted with participants who used assistance dogs to help with physical disabilities, we feel that many of the same benefits apply to individuals with psychiatric disorders, autism, and seizures. More information on how dogs assist individuals with these disabilities is available on the interior pages of our website, and as new research and findings surface based on assistance dogs serving these populations we will continue to update these pages.